Max Verstappen and Red Bull know now, if they weren’t already aware, that they need more than just the fastest car to win this year’s world title.
Lewis Hamilton’s 96th career success will surely be promoted right into his top ten most satisfying victories because the enduring impression is that the 36-year-old Briton pinched that win from Verstappen and Red Bull.
An aggressive early stop strategy gave Hamilton crucial track position and, DRS or not, it’s easier to be in front in modern F1.
However, it took all the guile, speed, and tyre management finesse of a seven-time world champion to convert that opportunity into a surprisingly rare first-round success.
Hamilton made a small mistake as Verstappen was closing fast in the final six laps but in all other respects his performance was blemish-free.
Verstappen, by contrast, found himself with just a few opportunities to complete the pass on track in the closing stages and his efforts seemed a little hurried.
He exceeded track limits passing Hamilton and, while he quickly gave the position back, he endured another slightly scruffy lap cleaning his tyres before he could redouble his efforts to pass again. As it turned out, the moment was gone.
The Dutchman and his team can at least take great solace from knowing that their machine is conspicuously the most nimble and fleet-footed on the grid.
Honda have pulled out all the stops ahead of their withdrawal at the end of the year and they can reasonably believe that they can go out with a title success.
For Hamilton and Mercedes, they’ve built up a small buffer over their rivals while, for the first time in a while, not enjoying an equipment advantage.
As they work flat out to reduce the lap time deficit to their “high rake” rivals, they’re doing so from the lead rather than chasing the game.
Behind the thoroughly engrossing lead battle, there was much to enjoy. Lando Norris despatched Daniel Ricciardo in their first battle for supremacy at McLaren and the Englishman’s credentials have received another boost from his fourth-place finish.
Yuki Tsunoda got the least publicity of all three F1 debutants ahead of race one but his drive to ninth was assured, while Mick Schumacher did what he needed by comfortably outqualifying his rookie team mate Nikita Mazepin and then bringing the year-old Haas home at the back of the finishing order.
Schumacher survived a spin while Mazepin was less fortunate. The Russian’s debut was fraught, his opening lap crash just one of a number of off-track excursions on a trying debut at the top level for the controversial young Formula 2 graduate.
At the other end of the experience scale, Fernando Alonso is steeling himself for a long season with the Alpine and the Spaniard showed that the fire still burns with a top ten qualifying run which, one suspected, was probably more than his car deserved.
His first stint pace confirmed that as he faded from contention but by then we were already engrossed in a fabulous battle for the win. This has the makings of a truly memorable season.